MRAP may get postwar roles after all

The Army muses about using MRAPs for more jobs than first appeared, though there'll be no dedicated units.

The odds for a postwar life for the Army’s Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles may have improved this week, while your friends from DoDBuzz were battening down the hatches and splicing the mainbrace and such at the big Navy trade show.

Last week it appeared as though almost all the MRAPs, though only a few years old, would go right into warehouses after coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The brass wasn’t even going to try to find a role for them in the postwar Army, given that the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle is right around the corner. Turns out, that’s not quite right.

The Army said Tuesday the MRAPs do have a future, though not in dedicated “MRAP brigade,” Stryker-style units. Here was the word:

MRAPs will be used for training soldiers and for conducting route clearance. The vehicles will also be prepositioned for use when needed. The Army has more than 20,000 MRAPs in a tactical wheeled vehicle fleet of more than 270,000 vehicles.

“That’s a very small percentage,” said Col. Mark Barbosa, the division chief for Force Development logistics, Army G-8.

With so few MRAPs in the Army’s fleet, there are no plans to build MRAP brigades, but instead the MRAPs will be prepositioned in “contingency sets,” Barbosa said, ready for soldiers that need them for missions. Other MRAPs will be used as part of predeployment training sets and for specific missions as well.

Now, Barbosa said, the majority of the Army’s MRAPs are still in Afghanistan, though some are leaving Kuwait and going back to the United States to depots such as Red River Army Depot, Texas or Letterkenny Army Depot, Pa. There they are reset, and receive the performance enhancements that were developed for later models.

There are some key details missing here — if the Army only uses 500 of those 20,000 vehicles and mothballs the rest, that might not make a big difference. But if the Army uses a third of its MRAPs for training and prepositions another amount as described, that could mean they remain part of the soldier lifestyle instead of just going right into storage.

DoD spent $44 billion on developing and building that fleet of 20,000 vehicles, according to the Government Accountability Office. The Army has to balance the desire to get as much good out of that investment as possible with the need — and desire — to move on to JLTV. That also goes for its fleet of Humvees.

Even though the Army and Marines have scrapped their onetime plans for a major upgrade to their Humvee fleets, those vehicles will still be around for a long while, Tuesday’s story said. The catch is that the vehicles are “maxed out” and “no longer feasible” for use in combat, the Army says, although it will probably keep many of them for use in the U.S. and for missions such as disaster response.

Another key reason to keep MRAPs and Humvees around for a little longer is that it takes the pressure of JLTV. Army officials say they’re proud of the work they did saving this program from the brink of disaster, getting the unit cost down, and all the rest. Maintaining the legacy vehicle fleet for that much longer could give space and time to keep up that progress.